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Technical Writing Industry Quick Facts: Education, Job Growth and the Best Places to Work

In our last article article on technical writing, we analyzed 40 recent job listings in the New England area. While we were able to learn a lot from those listings, such as the skills and education required to land the job, they were from a single concentrated area and didn’t adequately reflect the state of technical writing as a whole.

Today, we’re going to look at some data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics  (BLS) to see the full scope of technical writing jobs across the country.

The BLS collects and compiles data from over 800 occupations and makes them readily available to the public. Let’s take a look at what they have to say about the field of technical writing and the job outlook for future writers.

Where the technical writing jobs are

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that most technical writing jobs exist in cities and states with a large science and technology presence. Here are the top three states for careers in technical writing:

Top U.S. Technical Writing Jobs Employers States - EdReporter.com

  1. California: 6,590 technical writers
  2. Texas: 3,930 technical writers
  3. Massachusetts: 2,700 technical writers

However, due to population and area differences, the total number of technical writing jobs in a state may not be the best way to determine the demand for writers in that area.

To determine the demand for an occupation, we can use the location quotient, which is the ratio of the location concentration of tech writers to the national average concentration of tech writers.

When we look at this quotient, the top states for tech writers change a bit:

  1. District of Columbia – 3.21
  2. Massachusetts – 2.20
  3. Maryland – 2.11

States with the top paying tech writing jobs

If you’re considering technical writing as a potential subject to study in college or as a career change, one of your chief concerns might be the average salary.

Since technical writers most often work in the STEM fields and have specialized skills in that area, they tend to make more than most writers.

The national media salary for technical writers is $69,850. When compared with other media and communications professionals, technical writers make over $15,000 more per year.

Location also plays an important role in the salary of technical writers. Some industries, especially those found in tech hubs like California and Massachusetts, pay more on average. Furthermore, some states just have a higher cost of living and higher average wages to make up for it.

Here are the top three highest paying places for technical writers:

Average Technical Writer Salary U.S. EdReporter.com

  1. California – $86,530
  2. Massachusetts – $84,580
  3. District of Columbia – $83,820

Required education to become a technical writer

If the pay and locations look promising, you might be thinking it’s to start looking into technical writing schools. You might be surprised, however, to find that there aren’t many colleges and universities offering degrees in technical writing.

While most technical writing jobs require a bachelor’s degree, they are often flexible regarding the subject that degree is in. Tech writers come from backgrounds in English, journalism, computer science, engineering, and numerous other disciplines. You’ll stand a better chance at landing a job if you’re familiar with their industry and if you excel at explaining things in writing.

Technical writing online courses

If you’re thinking of switching careers and don’t have experience in technical writing, there are a few online courses available that will give you an introduction.

Then, if you want to venture into the the popular field of tech writing for software developers, it wouldn’t hurt to take a few programming or web development courses to gain an understanding of the languages.

Technical Writing Writer Education Job Growth Outlook U.S. EdReporter.com

Technical writing job outlook

It’s been said many times that technical writing is a dying industry. However, that tends to be said whenever a job evolves with the changing time.

Now that companies are trying to make their user experience as intuitive as possible, some see this process as eliminating the need for end user documentation.

While intuitive user experiences are a good goal to aspire to, some things will always be too complicated to be understood by your average user or consumer. Furthermore, technical writers are now finding new roles like instructional design for online courses, training materials for businesses, and technical support blogs for computer software.

People entering the technical writing field might also experience a bit of an identity crisis in that their job title may be different at every company they work. This is partly due to the fact that tech writers, especially in rapidly changing fields like software development, tend to wear many hats.

You could have your hands in any number of departments, from engineering and user experience to marketing and graphic design. As a result, the more skills you have, the higher your chances of finding steady work.

Now, taking all of that volatility and industry change into account, here’s what the BLS says is the ten-year job growth of technical writing:

  • Technical writers – 10%
  • All media and communications careers – 4%
  • All occupations – 7%

So, in spite of the doomsday prophecies about the death of technical writing, the field is still growing faster than the national average.

 




Technical Writing Careers Job Listings Experience Education Skills EdReporter.com

Technical Writing Careers: The Experience and Skills You Need to Land the Job

If you’re considering technical writing as a career choice, there are a few ways to learn what education, skills, and experience you’ll need to get the job. You might look into salary information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You could reach out to an online community of people employed in the field to see what they recommend. Or, you can browse wearily through dozens of job listings to find out exactly what employers are looking for.

We’ve done just that for today’s article by sampling 40 technical writer job listings on Indeed.com. The listings are all in the New England area, mostly centered around Boston. They’re also recent listings–posted within the last 30 days. So, while this data doesn’t reflect the entire nation, it does paint a decent picture of the career as it stands today.

Let’s look at the data.

Technical Writing Job Salary Experience Education Skills EdReporter Infographic

Top industries for technical writers

Tech writing is a difficult career to define because it covers such a wide range of tasks across various industries. In other words, a technical writer working for a Department of Defense contractor will be creating different content than someone working for a startup software company.

There are some industries that employ a greater number of technical writers. Therefore, if you plan on entering the field it would be to your benefit to have some experience and knowledge in one of these industries.

From the job listings we reviewed, we found technical writing jobs in the following industries:

Industry Jobs
Software 12
Healthcare 8
Science 6
Government 4
Employment 3
Aerospace 2

Software technical writing

It has been said that technical writers in the software development field are a dying breed. Some companies want their user experience to be so intuitive and approachable that they never need to click the Help button.

Many tech writers, however, will tell you that goal is unattainable. Take companies like Google and Facebook who both use vast amounts of documentation to help users understand and navigate all of their features.

Healthcare and Sciences

Healthcare is an industry that never ceases to grow each year. New drugs, regulations, treatments, and policy are constantly being introduced. Technical writers in the medical and healthcare fields create the documentation behind those products and policies, adhering to strict industry standards.

Chemistry Manufacturing and Controls (CMC) technical writers are in demand because of their niche knowledge of pharmaceutical regulations.

Outside of medicine, technical writers are needed in a range of other companies in the science, technology, and engineering industries.

Job-related skills and tools

If there’s one thing more valuable than your education on your resume it’s your job skills. In technical writing, there are a range of tools, languages, and publishing standards that are vital to doing your job effectively.

In our analysis of 40 job listings, we found that these are most sought-after skills and competencies for technical writers:

Skill/Knowledge Jobs
Office 12
XML 4
APIs 4
GMP 4
FrameMaker 4
MadCap Flare 3
JIRA 3
HTML/CSS 3
CRMs 3
UX 2
RFP 2
Confluence 2
Git 2
DITA 2
Oxygen 2
CMC 2
ReadTheDocs 2
Swagger 1

Microsoft Office tops the list, if only because it’s used in so many industries by so many different employees. The most in-demand publishing software programs were Adobe FrameMaker and MadCap Flare, two powerful tools with a bit of a learning curve.

In terms of markup languages, it’s no surprise that XML and HTML were valuable skills to hold for technical writers who frequently create web-based documentation.

Experience and Education

Today’s job listings are notorious at asking for copious amounts of experience. Part of this can presumably be blamed on HR employees who ask for five years of experience in a program that has only existed for three.

However, our findings showed that most listings that had experience requirements asked for only one to three years of experience.

Experience Jobs
No Data 11
1 to 3 years 18
 4 to 6 years 9
7 to 10 years 2

When it comes to education, a bachelor’s degree was preferred by most employers. However, many job listings did not specify a particular degree, opting for a Bachelor’s in related fields such as English, journalism, communications, and marketing.

Education Jobs
Bachelor’s 23
Associate’s 2
H.S. Diploma 1
No Data 15

Salary information

Employers are hesitant to explicitly list the salary of the jobs they’re posting. Some even revert to using the boilerplate phrase, “Salary commensurate with experience.” However, the few companies (8 out of 40) that did list salaries were on the low side compared to what the Bureau of Labor Statistics says about tech writing salaries.

Average Salary (BLS): $73,160
Average Salary (from 8 of 40 listings):  $58,000

 





Check out our article, How to Become A Technical Writer to learn more about the career.

Tools for Technical Writers 2017

Top 5 Tools for Technical Writers in 2017

Technical writers work in a range of industries and create a wide variety of documents, manuals, and guides. In recent years, tech writers have also implemented principles of user experience (UX) and instructional design to create interactive tutorials, infographics, and even videos.

To further complicate matters, technical writers can be found in a number of business sectors–computer hardware and software, science and healthcare, education, and even government organizations.

The role of a technical writer will vary across those sectors, as will the tools they use. However, there are some tools that are ubiquitous and some skills that will serve you well regardless of the industry you work in.

In this article, we’re going to cover the tools that technical writers rely on right now, in 2017, when they’re on the job.

Technical writing tools for 2017


1. MadCap Flare

If you ask a room full of technical writers what their most important piece of software is, they’ll almost definitely answer with MadCap Flare. If you’re creating user guides and online help systems, or even ebooks, Flare will help you organize large numbers of documents into topics.

Flare also lets you publish to print, PDF, web, and mobile to ensure that your document is versatile and easily readable. In many ways, Flare is an all-in-one suite for authoring and publishing your projects.

2. Adobe FrameMaker

A competitor to Flare, Adobe FrameMaker is another authoring and publishing tool. However, FrameMaker tends to be used for long, print-oriented manuals and documents.

FrameMaker also has support for standards like DITA for structured writing.

3. GitHub

GitHub has been the go-to source for developers when it comes to collaboration and version control (Git). However, technical writers working on complex help files or open source documentation are now frequenting GitHub to collaborate.

If you work in a computer systems or software environment, knowing your way around programming languages and GitHub will ensure that you’re on the same page and that your workflows are congruent with one another. And, considering that systems and software companies are the leading employers of technical writers, it can’t hurt to start using GitHub to manage your workflows.

Documentation is being written by a lone technical writer buried in the corner of an office building less and less. With GitHub and other, collaboration is easier than ever and it tends to produce high-quality results.

4. SnagIt

Screenshots and screen recording makes written and multimedia tutorials more coherent. It lets the audience follow along with your instruction, rather than only imagining it from an abstract description.

While there are many screenshot and screen recording tools out there, SnagIt has become a favorite among technical writers for its ease of use and built-in annotation. However, other popular tools include Awesome Screenshot and Evernote’s Skitch.

5. Oxygen XML Editor

Many technical writers will, at some point, find themselves writing XML markup. Structured writing, such as XML, allows you to define elements which you will then be able to style for publishing on the web.

Oxygen XML Editor is the industry standard for document authoring. However, since XML is just a markup language that is human and machine readable, most text editors will do fine.





To learn more about technical writing, including a list of online courses to take, check out our article on How to Become a Technical Writer.

Technical Writer Courses Skills Edreporter

How to Become a Technical Writer: Online Courses and Skills You Need to Learn

Technical writers work in a number of industries and write a number of different types of documents and guides. However, if you had to boil technical writing down to one simple role it would be this: technical writers explain things.

While this may sound straightforward, there are a number of different ways things need to be explained. Apps and websites need Help buttons that show users where to find things and furniture needs assembly guides. However, technical writers also write project proposals, white papers, and even press releases.

Skills technical writers need to have

Due to the varying nature of the job, not every technical writer is required to hold the same set of specialized skills. If you work for a software developer, you may be required to know how to read programming languages (such as JavaScript, PHP, C++, etc.).

On the other hand, technical writers working in manufacturing might need an understanding of GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) and other industry standards and regulations.

As a result, it’s a good idea to determine which industry you would fit into before learning languages and regulatory guidelines.

The role of a technical writer has many variations. But, there are some skills that will help you regardless of where you end up working. They are:

Researching technical information

To be able to effectively relate information to users, you need to have a deep understanding of the product or service you are writing about. This involves doing self-guided research on your subject matter.

In many ways, being a technical writer makes you a student of whichever project you are working on. Eventually, you can become the teacher and help others learn.

Interviewing skills

Many technical writers spend their days pestering the subject matter experts for whatever they’re writing about. That could be engineers, programmers, and anyone else who has the firmest grasp on the knowledge you need to purvey to the reader.

Journalists and journalism students often excel in this field because they aren’t afraid of asking questions repeatedly to get the facts right.

Clear and concise writing

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a novel, a blog post, or a user manual. Every piece of writing is created with a reader in mind. In technical writing, your goal is to explain information so that your average user can quickly understand what they need to know.

To do this, you’ll need to write in a concise and straightforward manner–avoid passive voice, confusing terms, or flowery language.

Design mind

With technologies changing, long, difficult to navigate user manuals are becoming a thing of the past. That doesn’t mean you need to be an artist or even a graphic designer. But you need to recognize when a diagram, infographic, or chart, is better suited to explain information than a wall of text.

Technical writing online courses

If you’re interested in learning some basic technical writing skills, there are several online courses and resources available. And many of them are free! First, take a moment to run through the Wikiversity overview on technical writing.

Then, check out one of the following courses to dig deeper: